Met Opera’s ‘Klinghoffer’: The musical bastardization of a cold-blooded  terrorist murder

New York’s Metropolitan Opera premiered “The Death of Klinghoffer” Monday night. The Washington Post describes the opera as “based on the brutal murder in 1985 of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jewish tourist shot by Palestinian terrorists and pushed into the sea from the deck of the cruise ship Achille Lauro.”

In the weeks leading up to Monday’s opening night performance Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager,  led an unprecedented marketing campaign to promote the opera: “See It --Then Decide.”

And so I did.

Defenders of the opera would have us believe the opera is worth staging because “Klinghoffer” is a work of art. It does not justify terrorism, they say, but portrays characters in a dramatized story --terrorist and victim alike -- as human beings.


Director Tom Morris argues, “it’s the job of dramatic art to allow us to understand why people might do terrible things.”

Wednesday, in an op-ed for the New York Post, Gelb wrote, "for those who came to listen and watch, it was a deeply moving experience that left no doubt which side the opera was on: the side of humanity."

I disagree.

You don’t have to pay upwards of $400 a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer” to know that it is an apologia for Palestinian violence. Just read composer John Adams' memoir, "Hallelujah Junction."

Adams’ animus towards America, his gross ignorance of Israeli history and society (he mistakenly thinks Israel has a constitution), and an ideology which rationalizes terrorism, is on full display in the Met’s new production. The Met website even featured a video of Adams explaining that terrorism is “an act of desperation.”

As Fox News anchor and former Judge Jeanine Pirro would say… REALLY?

Terrorism is a crime that needs to be prosecuted and defeated.  What needs to be understood is that no political grievances can justify deliberately killing civilians. There is no moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims or as Judah Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl put it, “Some coins do not have two sides."

Terrorism is a crime that needs to be prosecuted and defeated.  What needs to be understood is that no political grievances justify killing innocent civilians. There is no moral equivalence between terrorists and their victims or as Judah Pearl, father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl put it, “Some coins do not have two sides. “

But don’t expect to hear that leitmotif in the Klinghoffer opera.

What you can expect to hear in this musical bastardization of a cold-blooded  terrorist murder are the perpetrators singing sensitive, plaintive meditations on birdwatching.

Expect to be introduced to Palestinian murderers who are "not criminals but men of ideals,” driven to kill by an allegedly predatory, apartheid, colonialist enterprise.

In real-life, the hijacker's immediate grievance was the imprisonment of Samir Kuntar then in an Israeli jail  for one of the most brutal terror attacks recorded in Israeli history -- an attack  timed to scuttle Israel's ratification of the Camp David Peace Accords.

Kuntar and his killer minions  entered a residential building in Nahariya and invaded the apartment of the Haran family. They slaughtered 31-year old Danny Haran along with his four year old daughter, Einat.

Kuntar smashed the little girl’s head on a rock with his rifle. Tragically, Haran's two year old daughter, Yael, was suffocated as her mother tried to stifle her cries when they hid from Kuntar.

On July 16, 2008, Hezbollah exchanged the remains of two captured Israeli soldiers for Kuntar and four other prisoners.

Today, Kuntar is hailed as a hero by Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah. He's been given honorary Palestinian citizenship. In an interview with Al Jadad TV, Kuntar vowed "God willing, I will get the chance to kill more Israelis."

But don’t expect to hear that reality in this opera either. In fact, don’t expect to hear any of the Zionist historical narrative in counterpoint to the Chorus of the Exiled Palestinians. All you get during the Chorus of the Exiled Jews is barely intelligible drivel , and juxtaposing them presents a deceptive chimera of  “balance.”

It is a perverse ruse for Gelb to claim that the opera merely has “characters who speak anti-Semitic lines.”

The Goebbels-like anti-Semitic bile spewing from the mouths of Palestinians characters in Klinghoffer is implicitly supported and condoned by the stereotypes and old memes Adams and Goodman (the librettist) rely on to portray the opera's Jewish characters.

While terrorists sing about fighting for a cause and the liberation of their brethren, Jews are growing fat off of the exploitation of others.

The opera's Jewish characters are uninteresting, whiny,  self-absorbed bourgeoise, concerned only with money, their physical comforts ("I should have worn a hat"), or their personal loss. They are narrow minded in their ability to appreciate the terrorists’ "noble" grievances.

Klinghoffer is oblivious to his captors’ sufferings saying, “You just want to see people die…You’re crazy.”

Not surprisingly, in real life Adams bitterly complains that Jews control Congress and American Middle East policy; that Americans and their media are indifferent to Palestinian suffering -- wrongfully "scolding or ridiculing them" for terrorist acts.

Monday night's performance brilliantly vindicated the Klinghoffer daughters’ outrage  that the opera distorts and exploits their father’s murder as a vehicle  to present political propaganda.

It whitewashes Palestinian violence -- presenting it as an understandable by-product of years of Israeli aggression that supplanted Palestinians and stole their land.

Neither the creators of this travesty nor Gelb consulted the Klinghoffer daughters about this affront to their father's memory. Including their written protest in the opera’s playbill is a hollow bone of appeasement. Words in a playbill can’t stand up against the power and drama of the operatic form.

That is precisely why Adams decided to sell this sordid version of the event through the persuasive medium of opera.

The impressive staging of this production effectively enhances its propaganda.

Framing the actors throughout the entire opera is a three sided depiction of Israel’s separation barrier; the action of the opera takes place against this backdrop signaling Israeli "apartheid."

In reality, there was no separation barrier in 1985 when this incident took place. Years of terrorist killings of unarmed Israeli civilians necessitated the wall built 20 years later…and it significantly reduced suicide attacks.

But you won’t find that reality presented in “Klinghoffer” either.

One operagoer who walked out of the performance tweeted: "How outrageous to infer that the Palestinians are like the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Jews went to one place -- Treblinka. The Palestinians went to Acre and Nazareth."

Gelb claims he has an “artistic duty” to present this “contemporary American masterpiece.”

But when New York’s Center for Contemporary Opera reports it had over one hundred entries in its annual program to commission and encourage new American operas, whatever the merits of Adams’ opera (previous critical reviews were highly polarized—I for one found  the opera trite, tedious, and musically mediocre ) it is hard to understand why “Klinghoffer,” would trigger a duty for the Met to select this work as the third opera by John Adams staged in seven years.   

Contrary to his somewhat hysterical posturing, Gelb had nothing to fear from the righteous protestors outside the Met who were simply exercising their First Amendment right to speak out and say Never Again!  Those who did, have heard the leitmotif of this opera before… that of the morally and physically crippled Jew -- the Jew who is easily disposed of. And it did not end well.

Professor Abraham Joshua Heschel and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel have both taught:

The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference. No honorable person should be indifferent to this slander set to music -- or support the Met’s unfortunate decision to give a voice to this calumny against Jews and Israel.

Americans, all Americans, not just Jewish-Americans, should rightly fear what took place inside the Met Opera this week. The auditorium became a place where a megaphone for hate was given to every would-be jihadist seeking to undermine western civilization. And where, sadly, incredibly, anti-Semitic propaganda was applauded.

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